Even though Marlon Wayans has managed to cut his teeth on comedy with movies like “Scary Movie” and “White Chicks,” it didn’t stop him from taking the occasional action (“G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra”) or dramatic role (“Requiem for a Dream”). With his latest comedic movie, “A Haunted House,” Marlon wrote, produced and stars in this film, which was made independently and shot in 20 days in one location. Shot in the found-footage format, the movie is about a newlywed couple who moves into their dream house only to find out that they are being haunted by spirits. I had the opportunity to speak with Marlon last month when he was in town promoting the film.
Where did the idea come from to make “A Haunted House”?
Marlon Wayans: On the toilet, smoking a blunt (laughs). Just kidding… in my basement, at my house, watching “Paranormal Activity 2.” I was trying to find a found-footage comedy because I wanted to be the first one out there to do a found-footage comedy because they did with horror movies and they did it with superheroes. It’s an interesting way to tell stories and I wanted to be the first to do a found-footage comedy so I started watching all these found-footage movies starting with “Paranormal Activity” and “Paranormal Activity 2.” I was like “Why do white people do this? Just move” (laughs). That’s where the idea came from: what if “Paranormal Activity” happened to a black couple? I was like “Maybe I’ll call it ‘Paranormal Blacktivity.’ I was teasing with that title, but they wanted to name the movie that. We were like “No! Don’t do it!” It came from there and so I called my producer and partner who wrote the movie with me, Rick Alvarez, and we just kind of mashed on it. Before we knew it, we had 20 pages of jokes and we were like “Okay…this is good.”
Have you seen the rest of the “Paranormal Activity” movies yet?
Wayans: I saw those. I think my timing is so perfect because it on the cusp of where “PA3” was kind of bad. It wasn’t as good as “PA1” or “PA2,” but it was okay. “PA4” was like “Okay, this is getting bad.” What’s good about this movie is that it is not a parody. It’s more like a horror comedy with parody moments done found-footage style. It’s like a mash-up. I think the whole temple of the movie is a lot less desperate, even though we go to desperate places at times. I think it’s organic and it comes through the situation and characters. They are all after objectives and goals so I think it more like a movie than a parody. A lot of times, parody can be random jokes and I don’t think anything in this movie is random. It all makes sense in terms of the story.
What kind of movies do you prefer making: the parody movies or the non-parody movies like “White Chicks”?
Wayans: It doesn’t matter because I like making movies. A comedy is a comedy, but with “A Haunted House,” you don’t know what to call it. It’s not a parody, it’s not a comedy, and it’s not a horror film. I just love telling jokes and finding different ways to tell them. What I like about “White Chicks” is that it has a story and characters you care about. Parody is fun, but there are a lot of gags. I don’t like where parody went. After “Scary Movie” and “Scary Movie 2” when we kind of stepped away, you’ve seen so much bad parody that it has given parody a bad reputation. I am doing something completely different with this movie. If you never saw one of these movies, you can still enjoy the movie because there are two characters where a girl moves in with a guy, she has a ghost that follows her and the ghost gets in between the boyfriend and girlfriend. It kind of has a romantic story. It’s based on a grounded reality and then it goes to some sick, crazy places.
How was it trying to make a found-footage movie compared to comedies using static camera shots?
Wayans: It’s a lot harder because static shots are where you can tell better jokes. With this movie, because the way these movies are edited and you don’t have your normal coverage, you cutting. That’s why Cedric (the Entertainer) can sit at the door saying “I ain’t going in there.” We just pop off 15 jokes rapidly and we are jumping in the same take, different takes and splicing them together. It’s a little bit harder to cover your jokes shooting this way because with comedy, you have to capture the joke. If you miss a joke, it’s dead.
What was the casting process like? Do you know who you wanted in the film or do you just audition a lot of people?
Wayans: The casting process was your normal casting process except we had people in mind that we wanted for some of the roles. A lot of them were busy doing stuff, which was a blessing because then we got out cast. Once I had a meeting with all these guys and after I saw some of them read…right now, I can’t see anyone else doing any other roles in this movie beside who I casted. To me, that’s a good sign of a strong cast because everybody actually came to playand everybody has a memorable role.
What was the most difficult scene to shoot?
Wayans: I think anything involving gags involving wires and other stuff. With the scene in the kitchen where all the doors open, trying to get the timing on that was difficult. I almost got hit in the head with a pot (laughs). A teapot swiped my face and I had to act like I didn’t see it. Me and Essence (Atkins) pretty much stayed calm and thing would just start flying. Choreographing the strings and stuff like that or pulling her and yanking her up the rug and down the stairs took a while to nail it, but the acting was the easy part. There were no hard scenes to film acting-wise.
You said that you are producing now. What do you like better: acting, producing or writing?
Wayans: All of it. The producer helps make the decisions to help execute the writer’s vision and all of them help set the stage for the performer to have as much fun as they possibly can. As a producer, you’re insuring those visions. You’re hiring your director, you’re hiring your crew and you are basically putting together your team. Everybody’s team help supports the director and the producers because collectively, we have the vision. Michael Tiddes came up in our camp so giving him his first opportunity as a director was great because the guy has worked hard for years and I’m glad he got the opportunity, but Rick and I got to be the boss and make our own decisions because we didn’t to deal with the studio because we had a financier. We were our own production company.
How do you think you have progressed as a filmmaker thus far in your career?
Wayans: I studied a long time with my brothers. I have been doing this for 20 years and I have been studying since I was six years old. To be able to go on my own and do this is kind of an extension of the brand. I wasn’t nervous. I was excited to go out and do it because there was nothing to be nervous about. It’s like someone giving me the ball with one second left on the clock and it’s a three-point shot and you have shot three-point shots in the gym for 20 years. I have been doing this now for a long time so I’ve logged my time and I kind of understand the art, science and math of comedy. I was excited in doing this movie and I didn’t feel any pressure. Maybe if it bombs, I’ll feel a little pressure but in terms of executing the vision, it was all fun. We laughed the whole time and we were under duress because we were shot this in 20 days in one location. We just rocked it out with a small crew and had a blast. You know you had a good time when the movie is ending and people are actually sad. I am excited and looking forward to the future because of all I have learned in the past from my brothers and being a disciple of the Keenan Ivory Wayans School of Comedy.
“A Haunted House” is now playing in Hialeah theaters. Click here for showtimes.